Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Separation of Church and State

Interesting development today as reported by MSNBC, with FEMA said to be setting up guidelines for reimbursement of certain disaster relief expenses of "faith-based organi(z/s)ations" - OK, churches - responding to critical public requests for humanitarian services in their communities due to the hurricane(s).

As may be expected, divergent and critical viewpoints are aired in the story, and the whole thing should be read to catch their true flavor. The most illuminating bit, however, in my view is the final portion:
No income coming in
For some individual churches, however, reimbursement is very appealing. At Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Ocean Springs, Miss., as many as 200 evacuees and volunteer workers have been sleeping each night in the sanctuary and Sunday school classrooms. The church's entrance hall is a Red Cross reception area and medical clinic. As many as 400 people a day are eating in the fellowship hall.

Suzie Harvey, the parish administrator, said the church was asked by the Red Cross and local officials to serve as a shelter. The church's leadership agreed immediately, without anticipating that nearly a quarter of its 650 members would be rendered homeless and in no position to contribute funds. "This was just something we had to do," she said. "Later we realized we have no income coming in."

Harvey said the electric bill has skyrocketed, water is being used around the clock and there's been "20 years of wear on the carpet in one month." If FEMA makes money available, she said, the church definitely will apply.
Full disclosure: The writer serves both on the board and finance committees of a small (under 150 member) independent protestant church, and has some familiarity with church budgets, exclusive of the mega and mainstream varieties. This type of use is exactly why the church is there. The churches on this continent, and probably the world, could no more turn down a request from a public entity for this kind of emergency aid than they could promote a professional tractor-pulling contest - OK, they probably could do that in North Dakota or Saskatchewan - but you get the picture.

Almost no churches are so well-off they have enough funds available to live without regular giving (income) from their members for more than a short period, probably one to four months. Beyond that, to be prudent they would need to restructure their long-term debt, cash in CD's, adjust their payroll (cut people or hours back) and/or make other adjustments to their outgo. Just the fact they still have a facility to use for worship and service is truly a blessing.

That said, I would caution churches to be extremely careful if they decide to request any degree of reimbursement. Things like extra ministry or payroll support costs should be scrutinized, and only costs associated with specific line items or services requested in writing by the public entities, such as excessive janitorial, maintenance, utility and security expenditures - all clearly over and above like periods from previous years - should be submitted. The expense to replace fixtures or items accidently destroyed due to excessive or careless public use should be clearly prorated to reduce the amount sought by the extent of the known previous wear and tear.

Absolutely no storm damage or ministry opportunity costs or supplies should be included, no matter the amount. The occasion is simply a gift from God of an opportunity to serve others. What more could a church seek? Why else would we exist?

One other thing. Likely all requests will be classified as public records, meaning any unabridged financial records included could become fodder for every self-styled investigative anti-religious crackpot to travel down the pike for years to come. Figure out a way to comply with requests for cost or expense verifications that do not include submitting an intact annual financial statement. Or else refuse to submit the request.

Churches should gratefully use this opportunity to serve, care and demonstrate selfless love for their neighbors and community members without regard to financial gain. To do otherwise is to shame the name of the Lord we serve.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Gaza Greenhouse Disorder

other suggested titles:
  • Hope Springs Eternal....................................no,
  • Stupid Is as Stupid Does...............................no,
  • A Fool And His Money....................................maybe!
I stumbled across this story sometime in the past few days, but for some reason cannot remember where. So I 'disgoogled' it again today in the Jewish Exponent. It's a sad, oft-repeated story, titled The Greenhouse Effect, about wealthy "liberals" thinking judicious applications of money, (thankfully this time their own $14M USD), could make a difference in evil peoples' lives.
If there is any one act that can serve as a symbol for the shattered hopes for a democratic Palestinian state, it is the sad fate of the greenhouses left behind by Israeli farmers forced to abandon their businesses in Gaza.

Rather than being dismantled like the settlements, the greenhouses were purchased for the Palestinians by American Jewish philanthropists. These wealthy individuals hoped this would allow a thriving agricultural business, which had been carved out of the sand by Israelis, might become an engine for Palestinian prosperity.

But it appears that the Arabs who might have benefited from these greenhouses had other ideas. Along with the remaining synagogue buildings, these structures were smashed by Palestinian mobs, who surged through the settlements after Israel pulled out. For them, destroying any vestige of the Jewish imprint on the land was more important than jobs and the economy.

This story could serve as a wake-up call for the well-intentioned souls who believe that economic development is the key to peace. They need to remember that, for Israel's foes, the hope of prosperity still ranks a distant second to hate.
See also this LA Times story, earlier. In the past, some liberal readers have objected to my earlier post vis-à-vis mental disorders. And I freely agree that many ultra conservatives seem to be linked closer to escapees from a funny farm than participants in a rational discussion. That said, why is it so many liberals cannot see the fallacy of Jewish Philanthropists (or anybody else) expecting any other result in Gaza from the giving of this expensive 'gift'?

Hate trumps reason every time. Remember this! Even when it apparently doesn't, it eventually does! Ultra unthinking, blind-faith liberalism is akin to a mental disorder! One may be as nice as pie and smart as a whip, but to deny the existence of evil and hate when the evidence is so overwhelming is just plain sick!

We criticize those in New Orleans reluctant to leave their homes even though told the rising waters, etc., would kill them. They 'wasted' too many public resources, we said, trying to convince them to leave. We asked the question: "How many others could have been rescued with those same resources?"

I ask the same question of blind-faith liberals. "How much more justice and freedom could have been wrought with your 'wasted' resources if you had used better sense? How many man-hours of 'property protection' time were wasted trying to protect these greenhouses? Could the money have been better spent?"

Please note, I'm not accusing them of hating Israel, hating the US, or hating Bush. I'll leave those judgmentss to others. I do accuse them of being terminally stupid. It will probably take some additional years to prove my point, but remember, you saw it here first.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

People With Too Much Time and Money on Their Hands

In what can only happen when the collective mind suffers too many attacks from the "slings and arrows" of modern big city living, New 'Yawkers' are currently being treated to the inspiring view of a barge disquised as an 'island' being drug around by a tug boat in the waters off NYC. Read it and wonder at the mind set that sees a significant societal 'benefit' from this experimental art form.

Now if they would only charge an admission fee for an hour's ride on the floating hay bales, the idea might turn out to be of some use. But the 'artsy' mind doesn't appreciate the commercial value of that type of thing. Too practical.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

FEMA, You read it here, first

Its time now for two specific predictions from the 49er.

Prognostication one. FEMA, as we now know and love it, will be replaced under a new law creating a “newer, better, more responsive agency” sometime within the next six months – or my name is Abner Doubleday.

And forecast two. Somewhere within the new law, as it is crafted by a crafty congress, will be provisions for el presidente to federalize an entire disaster area when certain conditions are met.
  1. The disaster area is widespread, and covers significant portions of more than one state, and
  2. The governor of at least one of the involved states requests such action, or
  3. The anticipated potential loss of human life or property exceeds - say 200 persons or one billion dollars.
You can bet on it, and you read it here, first.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Saints Go Marching On

Just finished reading a piece at the LA Times website. 1. This is unusual because their site is normally only open by subscription; and 2. By principle I refuse to register for any subscription news site, so do not waste much time reading news I consider universally biased and too far out on the left for my taste. (This system works surprisingly well). And 3. It was sports news. (That might be why it was free).

What I read was a fresh story about the New Orleans Saints, which by definition are a US based National Football League football team formerly based in New Orleans, Louisiana, which once upon a time existed somewhere between the Mississippi gulf coast and Galveston, Texas. Before some woman named Katrina blew into town and sort of wrecked things. But I digress.

Many of you reading this blog do not know much of anything about the National Football League OR the New Orleans Saints football team. The writer does not know very much about the NFL or the ‘Saints’, as they are lovingly referred to by some three hundred or so faithful fans. But I do know they need more fans. And since they are from (accent on the from) New Orleans, I’d like to suggest a fun experiment. One we can all play and enjoy. Even the kiddies. And the vicar. (Extra points when you involve the vicar).

The experiment is “Let’s everybody get together, regardless of which sports team we really, really like, and for one full football season make the New Orleans Saints “North America’s Team” (as contrasted to the Dallas Cowboys whom some marketing genius years ago labeled “America’s Team”, even though they weren’t and still aren’t.

Here is a link to the story that today inspired me so fatefully. And here is a link to some information about the team. Those of you who join in and faithfully swear or affirm we will on our honor support and respect the on the field efforts of the 2005 New Orleans Saints Football Team will be eligible to win huge prizes after a gigantic post-season raffle drawing (void where prohibited) in front of a community Red Cross office somewhere, or in the parking lot of a Salvation Army post, whichever at the time seems most convenient or appropriate.

Prizes will not be limited to just an all expense underwater tour for two of the former New Orleans superdome, but may actually be limited to simulated rides for four through the eye of an artificial hurricane in authentic replicas of U.S. Hurricane hunting aircraft. Thrilling, isn’t it?

So everybody clear your calendars for the next !@~ months, and come back here every week for an enlightening discussion of just what football is, at least in the NFL’s point of view, and we jointly learn how to be brainless sports fans just like those in Boston and Edmonton, (unless, of course, you live in Boston or Edmonton – and then we’ll be emulating people who live in Chicago or Green Bay – a state just south of Saskatchewan).

There is no charge to participate in this fun event, but think of the 'discussion points' you'll accumulate, allowing you to show off in front of the ladies as you 'hang' around the cracker barrel at a Tim Horton's, or sip your double latte at Starbucks. Simply Priceless!

Our next post will discuss what is usually called "the game coming up this week-end", with enough information that it might actually hit you somewhat like a too-fragrant shrimp louis from an overly hyped french quarter cafe. Stay tuned and tell your friends! They will be excited to be part of history in actually cheering for a down and out American team.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Louisiana Office of Homeland Security 'craps out'

According to this on Right Wing News the Lousianna state office of emergency services specifically barred the Red Cross before the flooding began from taking critically needed supplies to the Superdome and Convention Center in the Crescent City because they "wanted people to evacuate," not hunker down for the duration (my words).

Since this supposedly was broadcast live on Fox News there should be sufficient independent confirmation of the information.

Could it be as simple as a state bureaucrat making a critical and fatal mistake in judgement?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

49er's Updated Grades

NOTE: None of what follows will be supported by links or references. Mainly, because most of it has been freely available to everyone wishing to look. Later, if challenged, I reserve the right to look it up and add it – if it suits me, and I can find the time.

After bouncing around between the net and the tube, including some of the side stories that have yet to receive wide spread recognition, the 49er has come up with the following weighted governance grades IN HIS OPINION for the period beginning three days before Katrina blew through FL, until midnight NOLA local time yesterday, 9/5/2005:

NOLA governance C minus
Orleans parish governance D minus
LA governance F
FEMA relief efforts D minus
GWB relief efforts C minus
Neighboring states’ relief efforts A
Other national statesmen’s efforts D minus
MSM local coverage efforts B plus
MSM national coverage efforts C minus
Kicking people when they’re down efforts A
International responses A minus

Here is his reasoning, much of which is repetitive from other postings (He’s tried to depersonalize this as much as possible).

The city of NOLA receives good marks for forcefully telling everybody to leave town ahead of time, and later for warning those going to the superdome to take food, water and blankets because they would be there on their own for several days and it would be ‘rough’.
They receive bad marks for earlier in time allowing the installation of a police radio system that could fail so completely during the foreseeable disaster they’ve since suffered. Whoever spec’ed out and okayed that system should be investigated criminally for neglect of duty. An emergency response force is useless if they can’t communicate on multiple levels. Many reports suggest the only communications left to them were primitive line-of-sight single-frequency “tach” channels. Cops outgrew those in the 1940s.
They receive a failing mark for saving their buses but not their citizens. Reports say during planning meetings when they came to the question of how to help evacuate the poor, the answer was silence. Effective leadership would have years earlier directed a team of action people to resolve that dilemma. No evidence has yet surfaced that this was attempted. (And, yes, besides reading of the city buses that were driven to safety, 49er saw the photo of the school bus yard containing over 300 partially flooded school buses). [He hates it when arrogant “suits” make final decisions based on their limited knowledge and ability. It still happens to him, and he’s retired – for crying out loud].
The city receives good marks for ‘getting with it’ once the scope of the flood was finally understood. When your power is out and you are operating on batteries, and your emergency services people can’t talk and report back at will because their communications are down, leaders are blinded and naturally hesitant. They recovered from that problem fairly rapidly, apparently, so he gave them the benefit of the doubt.
NOLA also receives good marks for making a controversial decision to oppose anarchy by forsaking some safety and recovery efforts, and directing increased enforcement resources back against looting, crime, etc. The humanitarian drama steals our emotions, but anarchy is extremely insidious and once it had been allowed to gain a foothold the human cost could easily have been worse and longer lasting than from the flood.
And they receive good marks for yesterday realizing their emergency responders were wearing out and badly needed personal and recreational time away from the disaster zone. Sending them to Atlanta and Lost Wages was a good idea. Their local knowledge will be vitally needed as the body recovery program begins in earnest, and when they return they should have clearer eyes and strengthened hearts.

Orleans Parish seems to be almost completely composed of the downtown portion of the Crescent City. 49er has found little to clarify its relationship with NOLA city governance. It may be that some city officials wear two hats, similar to the city and county of San Francisco, but he cannot confirm that at this hour. Never the less, the parish portion of the job seems extremely poorly done. For a parish that lived for decades under the threat of total disaster if a hurricane of a certain size descended upon its neighborhood, disaster planning was terribly lackluster and incomplete. Their web-page was/is a laugh. The term “second rate” gives it too much praise. As the interim level between city and state, it should have been jumping the gun to get things going days before Katrina hit, and then once again when the levies were breached. To this day he can find no record of them responding. Curiously, 49er can find response activity records for neighboring St. Bernard, Jefferson, and Plaquemines parishes, just not Orleans.

State governance did a good job of facilitating the original motorized evacuation a couple of days before Katrina’s second landfall. That went by plan and was pretty smooth. Personal friends that were in it said it was slow at first, but they reached Houston safely in well less than a day, and were pleased with the support they received.
LA state authorities were given access to resources and “federal disaster area” legal status a full day ahead of time by the feds, but seemed to “sit on it”, rather than take pre-cautionary actions. Why this failure to act occurred will be interesting to determine. It is probably the worst and most critical failure noted. A state can always step in and override a parish or city, but the feds cannot override a state without approval from congress.
The worst failure of the state, in 49er’s HO [Ok, tm is right. He’s not that humble], is for years accepting the limited safety of a defective levy system that was too low and too old. (A new type of system – originating in LA –for reinforcing their bases with permeable clay and building up levies was only partially used in and around the mighty Mississip, before it was imported to other river cities such as Sacramento and St Louis, etc.) If a levy is too low, it is TOO LOW. If it is too old, it is TOO OLD. The state of Louisiana failed miserably to make that dangerous situation a matter of the national conscience. That was their collective duty. They blew it.

FEMA is too full of bureaucrats (sorry, Q). There is a place for them, but that number should make up less than 1/5th of the staff. Instead, they seem to run it. And the way they run it is about three decades behind the times. Two examples. First, officials in St. Bernard Parish, east by southeast and seaward from New Orleans, as of midnight last night had still to hear a from anybody at FEMA even though they had been leaving phone messages at FEMA headquarters for five days.
Second, for any flood victim to apply for aid – as of 5 PM yesterday – required them to phone or email for a packet, WHICH WOULD BE MAILED to the claimant’s address for them to complete and mail back. So now to qualify for disaster aid, a citizen must not be in so much of a disaster as to lose either phone or email service, and/or a bona fide mailing address. Ridiculous. FEMA needs a good flushing of its top-level administrators. They don’t need to just administrate “smarter” (the old saw), but they need to administrate “realer”, to coin a phrase.

Interesting comment last night on Fox from Newt Gingrich, when asked why the delay in response from GWB. His reply, “He was getting too much conflicting information”. Since 49er and others believe that has been true for two or three years, it is easy for them to accept. If he learns otherwise, he reserves the right to alter his grade.

Texas, Mississippi, Alabama all came through this with their states performing like champs --even though vast areas of the last two had been wiped out. Was the flooding the only difference? Maybe, maybe not.

Life on the Bayou and Gulf Coast always brings out vile and pesky critters that can prove to be very bothersome. They are considered nuisances. Some of the nuisances do not have wings or feelers, but instead ride around in limos and hang out in the halls of congress. Those critters are now coming out in force hoping to put a political spin on anything done in the name of humanity. If we only hadn’t rid ourselves of the protection afforded by DDT, maybe they wouldn’t be so pesky.

These last grades are based on much shorter observation time periods, and are therefore subject to adjustment, later, as warranted.

Great job (in 49er’s opinion) by national, regional and local media in bringing accurate and timely local stories to light. Kudos to several for informing the world – and the authorities – of problems not previously known to exist.

On-the-other hand their big media brothers back on the least coast have wasted little time in ‘spinning’ negative comments and critical specials. Exceptions noted were MSNBC and FOX, but 49er is probably biased. (He feels we don’t need to be told what to think. Given facts we are capable of reaching our own conclusions, apparently unlike the vast hordes national MSM talking heads are trained to inculcate).

The Al Sharpton wannabe brigade has been hard at work, winning stellar marks for turning tragedy into race-baiting opportunity. When will a national black leader with the courage to tell it like it is – both ways – emerge?

Lastly, the response from almost every quarter of the world has been enlightening and edifying. Most peoples – if not their governments – truly wish to be kind to the down-and-out, and their communications and offers of help have been extremely heartwarming.
Good show!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Grading the Gap

Caught up as I was in the late night response effort on other blogs commenting on the governance failures surrounding Katrina, at one time recently I graded the response efforts as follows:
NOLA city goverance - D minus
LA state goverance - D
US Admin governance - C minus

which was based on this initial rationale:
US law places upon local and state administrations, and not the feds, the responsibility for performing every manner of disaster planning and response. The fed support was in place and available. But the local effort was ill-planned.

What gives me the right to grade these efforts, you ask? I'm a US citizen and I have EVERY right to grade them, that's why - I respond.

But further than that, in previous lives I've had many years of fleet and system planning experience, spent several years on the board of an outstanding ambulance (and first responder) service, spent years as a CA trained county peace officer and supervisor, and volunteer each year to oversee the public and volunteer transportation segments of at least two internationally known public events - duties which require months of preparation each year, even though they are basically repeats of a previous year's successful efforts.

In the next few days I plan on revisiting and revising this subject based on information obtained in the interim.